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A List of Buddhas

The Most Prominent Buddhas in Art and Scripture

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We often speak of THE Buddha, as if there were only one. But in fact, Buddhist scriptures and art portray many Buddhas. You will encounter "celestial" or transcendent buddhas and earthly buddhas. There are buddhas who teach and those who do not. There are buddhas of past, present, and future.

As you consult this list, keep in mind that these buddhas may be regarded as archetypes or metaphors rather than literal beings. Also keep in mind that "buddha" can refer to something other than a person -- the fabric of existence itself.

The list is not complete; there are many Buddhas, named and unnamed, in the scriptures.

1. Akshobhya

Akshobhya is a transcendent or "celestial" Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism. He reigns over the Eastern Paradise, Abhirati. Abhirati is a "Pure Land" or "buddha-field" in which enlightenment is easily realized. The Pure Lands are believed in as literal places by some Buddhists, but they may also be understood as mental states.

According to tradition, before enlightenment Akshobhya was a monk who vowed never to feel anger or disgust at another being. He was immovable in keeping this vow, and after long striving he became a Buddha.

In iconography, Akshobhya is usually blue or gold, and his hands often are in the earth witness mudra.

2. Amitabha

Amitabha is a transcendent Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism, called the Buddha of Boundless Light. He is an object of veneration in Pure Land Buddhism and can also be found in Vajrayana Buddhism. Veneration of Amitabha is thought to enable one to enter a buddha-field, or Pure Land, in which enlightenment and Nirvana are accessible to anyone.

According to tradition, many ages ago Amitabha was a great kind who renounced his throne and became a monk named Dharmakara. After his enlightenment, Amitabha came to reign over the Western Paradise, Sukhavati. Sukhavati is believed in by some as a literal place, but it can also be understood as a state of mind.

3. Amitayus

Amitayus is Amitabha in sambhogakaya form (see "Trikaya").

4. Amoghasiddhi

The celestial Buddha Amoghasiddhi is called "the one who unerringly achieves his goal." He is associated with fearlessness on the spiritual path.

5. Gautama

The historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism. See also Shakyamuni.

6. Kassapa

Kassapa or Kasyapa was an ancient Buddha, the third of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age. He was followed by Shakyamuni.

7. Konagamana

Konagamana is an ancient Buddha thought to be the second universal Buddha of the current kalpa, or world age.

8. Kakusandha

Kakusandha is an ancient Buddha listed in the Pali Tipitika as having lived before the historical Buddha. He also is considered to be the first of five universal Buddhas of the current kalpa, or world age.

9. Maitreya

Maitreya is recognized by both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism as one who will be a Buddha in a future time. He is thought to be the fifth and last Buddha of the current world age.

Maitreya is first mentioned in the Cakkavatti Sutta of the Pali Tipitika (Digha Nikaya 26). The sutta describes a future time in which the dharma is entirely lost, and then Maitreya will appear to teach it as it had been taught before. Until that time, he lives as a bodhisattva in the Deva Realm.

In Mahayana Buddhism, Maitreya became a major iconic figure. In China he is identified as the laughing Buddha, a beloved character who emerged from 10th century Chinese folklore./p>

10. Pu-tai (Budai) or Hotei

The familiar "laughing Buddha" originated in 10th century Chinese folklore. He is considered an emanation of Maitreya.

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